Fiction - Dropping Balm, The Absinthe Literary Review

Mouthing the Words
a short short by M.O. Walsh

Despite her wonderful mustache, Candace is still a bitch.

This is partly because she gets out of bed right after sex. If there is any way she can walk out of a room naked, she’ll find it. To Candace, being both nude and upset at the same time is incredibly dramatic.

So, when the phone rings, she climbs over me and cusses.

“Candace—” I say. “Like it’s my fault.”

She slaps herself on the ass and heads out the door.  She is always slapping her own ass. It’s a habit she doesn’t know she has.  When she’s mad without her clothes on, she slaps it as if to say, Look what you could have.

Or she’ll do it to celebrate things, too.  Like if we’re out shooting pool and she sinks a bank shot, she’ll slap it as if to say, I’m good, admit it.

The slapping doesn’t impress me like it used to though. Because if she’s naked, it means we just had sex and then what good does a tease do? And if she’s sinking a bank shot, it’s because I put my finger on the wall and showed her the angle. Even if she downs a beer before I do, she’ll slap it.  Or if she squeezes into a tight parking spot, she’ll get out of the car, wait until I look at her and then slap it.  She slaps it a lot. It’s not her best quality.

She masturbates a lot too though, and that sort of makes up for it. Anyway, let her sit in the den and bitch; I don’t care.

“Answer the phone!” she yells.

I’m always caught up with mustached women. Candace, fortunately, is one of the more attractive ones. She dyes her hair red and looks ferocious in profile. I hang my head over the side of the bed and pick the portable phone off the charger.

“Hello.”

“Who is this?” a woman says.

“Who is it!” Candace screams from the den.

I don’t recognize the voice on the phone, but I know it’s not my mother. “This is the owner of the number you called,” I say. It could very likely be Brittany, an ex-girlfriend of mine who named her dog after me while we were dating. Now she disguises her voice and calls me at all hours. “And just who the hell is this?” I ask.

“I’m in Ohio,” she says. “My name is Janie.”

This woman sounds like a smoker, not all gravelly and old but kind of thick-voiced, like she’s talking through a pillow.

“What’s going on in Ohio?” I say.

“Where are you?” she asks me.

“Who the fuck is it!” Candace screams again from the den.

“It’s your mom!” I yell back. It’s a funny thing to say because Candace’s mom is dead. She died when Candace was five and now Candace blames everything on her, and perhaps for good reason.

Her mother had a habit of placing personal ads for well-hung Arab men with diesel-guzzling Benzes. She’d drop Candace at pre-school, rush off to some random rendezvous, and then go Benz hopping with sheiks.

The police found her in a mess after the accident, caught red-handed and dead, wearing nipple clamps and high heels. Her dad has photos of the wreckage and when Candace was a kid, he’d show them to her every time she cried.

She must have died quickly, Candace says, because she still looks happy in the photos. Framed in steel, her jaws full of the wide-eyed Arab.

Fuck her for dying, Candace says, she knew what she was doing.

So, now I tell Candace that a lot of things are her mother. It might not always make sense, but it either shuts her up or makes her laugh.

Candace doesn’t scream anything back at me from the den, and I hear her click on the TV.

“Who’s there with you?” the woman on the phone says.

“It’s Candace,” I tell her. “She’s a bitch.”

The woman doesn’t say anything, but I hear a radio in the background. It might be a commercial I’m hearing though, with all sorts of sound effects and music.

“Why are you in Ohio?” I ask her.

“I live here.”

The TV in the den gets louder and I know what Candace is doing with the volume. She has a clicker compulsion and holds down the buttons for fun. She’ll press volume-up and make the TV blare and then volume-down to make it soft. Then it’s up again, and then back down. She does it with channels, too. She’ll blurt something like “one fifty-seven” and then press channel-up. The channels will flip in a blur, she’ll scream “Stop!” and try to stop it exactly on one-fifty-seven. Sometimes she gets it.

“Where are you?” the woman asks me.

“You know where I am, you called me.”

“I just dialed a number,” she says.

There is static on the connection and it sounds like she’s in a car.

Candace is just trying to piss me off in there, I know it. The volume is cranked up again and she’s laughing over it in some cartoon voice.

“Are you on a cell phone?” I ask.

“I’m in the car with Adam,” the woman says.

“Turn that shit down!” I yell. I’m going to kill her, I swear.

“I’m sorry,” the woman says. I hear her radio cut off.

“Not you,” I tell her. “I was talking to Candace.” I picture the woman on the phone and wonder if she waxes her lip. 

The sun is streaking in through my bedroom window. It lights up dust particles and long, thin hairs on my legs. I flex my calf and look at the muscles, pointing my toes to stretch. Candace is cutting the TV off and on. Or maybe she is hitting mute, flipping it from maximum power to nothing, loud and then nothing.

“I want someone to talk to,” the woman says. “I just dialed a number.”

It strikes me that this woman on the phone could be a lunatic or maybe a man in drag. She could be hiding something terrible, calling me while she dismembers a corpse. She doesn’t sound crazy, though. And her voice is sexy actually, like she’s up to no good. 

With the clipping of the mute button, it sounds like a helicopter in my den. And right now, I’d rather talk to a stranger than deal with a naked Candace.

“Alright then,” I say into the phone. “Tell me your name.”

“My name is Janie!” she says. “I told you that. It’s Janie!” She begins saying it over and over. “Janie, Janie, Janie.”

I pull the phone away from my ear and wait for her to stop. There’s a network of cobwebs by my window. I don’t know why I’ve never noticed them.

“Relax Janie,” I say. “What kind of car are you in?”

It takes her a while to answer and I hear a baby crying. It could be the radio again, I guess, but there is no rhythm to it. Maybe she’s fiddling with it.

“It’s a BMW,” she says. “It’s Glen’s. He thinks everything is his.” I ask her who Glen is and she starts talking.

The TV is now quiet in the den and I can hear Candace in the hall closet, rummaging through my movies. She is calling out the titles, one by one.

She makes fun of me for alphabetizing my movies. It strikes her as odd, she says, that a person who doesn’t match his socks would think to alphabetize something. I tell her to fuck herself.

I hear her take a movie off the shelf, yell the title and drop it on the floor. She’s gotten to the Cs and is yelling, “Carlito’s Way, Jackie Chan, Jackie Chan—” I put all the Jackie Chan movies under C rather than doing them all by their title. It seems easier that way.

On the phone, Janie is going on about Glen and the background noise is louder. “What’s that noise?” I ask her. 

“I’m sorry,” she says.

“Can you turn it off?”

There is a ruffling over the phone line and it sounds like she might be switching ears. She presses one of the numbers, apologizes, and the static goes away, as if the line is dead.

“Janie?” I say. 

Candace has gotten to the Rs and she says, “Raising Arizona! Now isn’t that some shit?”

She’s going to come in here and say something to me about it, I know she is. She always thinks that movie is hers. It’s not of course, and I’ve had that movie since high school; I’ve told her that a million times.

But whenever Raising Arizona comes up, she’ll ask me when I graduated and look at the back of the box, as if she’s going to catch me in a lie. It’s amazing though, the way she sticks to her story and truly believes it’s hers.

“Well look-at here,” Candace says, standing in the doorway and holding the tape. 

“You just happen to have a copy of Raising Arizona. I wonder where mine could be?” I pretend like I’m involved in the phone conversation and cover my free ear with my hand.

“Janie?” I say, “You still there?”

“Who the fuck is Janie?” Candace says and throws the movie on my chest. I look over at her and curl my lip. Then I jerk my head to shoo her away. She walks farther into the bedroom so I can see her without straining. 

Candace has a ridiculous body. It’s long and thin, and you never hear her talking about diet. This is part of the reason she doesn’t get along with other women. She pours Pixy Stix on ice cream and gorges on all-you-can-eat ribs.  

The trouble, though, is that she knows it’s a good body. It’s invincible. Therefore she doesn’t feel the need to do anything she doesn’t want to, like wax her lip or tell the truth.

Standing naked in my bedroom, Candace makes quick gestures with her hands like sign language, mouthing the words: Who the fuck is Janie?

“Sorry about that,” I say into the phone.

I tell Candace to leave by jutting out my thumb.

“He’s got a pencil-dick!” Candace says and holds her pinky out as if Janie can see it. “It’s like a match stick.”

I flip her the bird and she grabs her breasts.

“That’s a new one,” I say as she walks out of the room. I watch her go back to the hall closet. 

Reservoir Dogs,” she yells, starting back where she left off.

I hear a muffled noise on the phone and the static is back.

“You there?” I say. Janie is breathing quickly and I hear a wailing in the car.

“Do you want a baby?” she says.

I laugh and think maybe Candace is insane. I’ve had that movie since high school; why can’t she get over it?

Ronin!” she yells from the closet.

The woman on the phone laughs back at me, “He just cries because he can, it drives me crazy. You want him?”

I use a hick accent and tell her, “I don’t know nuthin ’bout birthin’ no babies.” We both laugh again. 

“I don’t either,” she says. “Glen doesn’t either.”

I say that a lot actually, about birthing babies. Maybe too much, like the way Candace slaps her ass. I say it every time someone mentions children. I don’t even know where it came from, but it makes people laugh like it’s from an old movie.  

“Why is it crying?” I ask her. 

“That’s what they do,” she says. “They cry and yell and they eat and they shit.”

Candace yells, “What About Bob?,” and a thought hits me like a bullet. This is just about to get worse. 

I hear more crying in the background.

Cheerleader Orgy?” Candace says, laughing. 

I put all the porn under X since it seemed like it might make them harder for people to find. You’d think a person would find what they’re looking for before getting all the way to the Xs.

The Sperminator?” she screams.

I smile. I want to tell her that The Sperminator is actually a quality flick and a personal favorite.

“I shouldn’t have him,” Janie says. 

I can’t tell if our connection is getting worse or if her voice is just cracking. I hear videotapes crashing around in the hall and it sounds like Candace is walking back to the den.

“Well ...” I say to Janie. 

I know what Candace is going to do. She’s going to blare that porn. I can hear her messing with the VCR.

“So,” Janie says, “enough about Adam. Tell me I’m good.”

“You’re good,” I say. 

I hear Candace laughing in the den and then there it is, loud as hell and in the middle of my favorite part. She’s laughing at me because it’s a masturbation scene and she knows I’m a sucker for that stuff. I bet she’s picturing me getting off to it and thinking that I’m so predictable. She always says I’d rather be the camera man than the porn star. 

“I’m not good,” Janie says.

If I go into the den to stop her though, it will just get more complicated. She’ll say I caved for porn and not for her, and that will start the whole cycle again.

“You think I’m good?”

I will not go into the den.

“What do you look like Janie?” I ask.

“What do I look like?”

“You sound hot,” I say, trying to stall.

There is a long moment of silence and I wonder if I’ve offended her.

“I think he might be sleeping,” she says.

“Who?”

“That’s what they do. They cry and they sleep. And they cry when you sleep.”

The moans coming from the den are growing louder. Candace has the volume cranked and it’s at the part where the body-builder-type Terminator guy walks in on Sarah Cummonner at the mall. He catches her getting off in a J.C. Penney dressing room and promises not to kill her. So she takes off his pants and they watch themselves go at it in the dressing room mirror.

“Turn it down!” I yell towards the den.

“Turn it down!” Candace yells back. She’s like a child.

“It’s really quiet when he’s sleeping,” Janie says. “Tell me I’m good.”

All of sudden, the potential of this Janie situation dawns on me; The horny housewife, calling from nowhere.

“Are you married?” I ask her. She moans. I think about asking if she shaves but I stop, realizing how quiet it has gotten in the den. It seems Candace has turned down the volume but kept the movie playing. I hear soft grunting and moaning and it doesn’t take long before I realize what is going on here. It’s Candace, sitting naked on my sofa watching porn.

She’s masturbating in there, trying to piss me off.

“Do you ever think, when you’re driving, about just yanking the wheel?” Janie says. “Just pulling it real hard and, maybe, try ripping the car?”

I listen intensely, seeing if I can distinguish Candace’s moans from the ones in the movie. I kick the sheet off from around my feet and adjust my boxers. I can’t believe she’s going for the jugular like this.

“Have you ever cheated on your husband, Janie?” I ask. There is something about cheating wives for me. It’s something absurdly hot, like mustaches.

“Oh, yes,” she says and laughs. “I cheat all the time. I just can’t get enough.”

“Seriously?” I ask. I pull myself out of my boxers and watch the sunlight cast a shadow across my thigh.   

“Oh yeah, baby. I go out every night and act like a slut. Is that what you want to hear?” She begins to breathe directly into the phone. “You want to know how bad I am?” There is a twist in my stomach and I hear Candace over the sound of the movie. She’s getting after it in there, saying things under her breath.

“I like that,” I say into the phone, becoming distracted.

“You want me to need it?” Janie says, her voice rising. “You want to stick it in me?”

“Yes,” I say, and look down at my body.

“You want to fertilize me?” she says. “You want a baby?”

I know that Candace is getting off on those porn guys. I just know she is. I can’t compete with those donkeys. She’s probably going crazy in there, wishing it was her on film with those guys. Or wishing those guys were in my den with her, or whatever. I imagine her going down on strangers, and it drives me crazy.

“Is that what you want, daddy?” Janie says.

Janie is beginning to bother me so I pull the phone away from my ear, trying to concentrate on Candace. She keeps talking, and all I can make out are dirty words. I close my eyes and wonder if Candace will ever be like Janie, driving around, all smoky-voiced and horny. Dialing random numbers just to get off. 

But Candace is too hot for that. Listen how she’s into it. I love the way she slaps that ass. Slaps it and grabs it. Such a good, good ... Yeah, slap it.

I grunt and squeeze the phone. Janie is still talking and, unfortunately, is just getting started.

“Did you do it?” she says, panting. “I want to do something too.”

I can hear the baby again. She must have woken it back up with all that breathing. I picture it with chocolate all over it’s face, crying in the backseat, mumbling things no one understands. I feel guilt like a sucker-punch and have to fight off an urge to just hang up.

“What are you doing?” I ask, trying to sound annoyed.

“Isn’t this what you want?” Janie says. “I’m gonna do it. I’m just gonna yank it.” Janie’s voice is frenzied, and I think Candace might be having an orgasm in the den. This woman is a lunatic, calling people she doesn’t even know and hyper-ventilating. I hear the baby wailing and Janie and Candace are repeating their own names.

“Look, Janie—” I say.

She is babbling, saying things I can’t make out. There is noise all around, high pitched and slobbery. I wipe my hand across the side of the bed and listen. This whole thing has a strange beat to it, like crowd noise. After a minute, the TV goes quiet and I hear Candace digging in the hall closet again.

“Can you hold on a minute, Janie?” I say. She doesn’t answer.

I wonder what Candace thinks about the porn, and what she’d think about what I just did. I pull the covers over my waist and look around to see if there’s a towel on the floor. 

I know she’s thinking about those porn guys; she has to be. Thinking about how men like that do exist and how I have a match stick. She’s probably remembering that she can do whatever she wants. She can have whatever she wants.

I see the charger on the floor and it reminds me to hang up with Janie.

“I have to go,” I say.

There is no voice on her end of the line. Instead, there’s a screeching. The static pulses and it sounds like a tire squeal. Numbers get pressed, touch-tones blare, and sounds of metal come crunching through the receiver. Maybe not crunching, but there’s definitely something metallic happening. It could be the radio interfering with the cellular. After all, it is just a junky old BMW, I think, and grin.

Candace is at the bedroom door now, standing on her tiptoes and stretching. She has a sleepy look in her eyes and red splotches around her nipples.

I hold the phone away from my ear as the noise dies down, putting up a finger to let Candace know that I see her. I sit up in bed and look at her intensely.

I mouth the words, Almost done.

All I hear on the phone is a steady buzzing. I make out something in the background; it could be Janie still talking, I guess, but sounding further away. Or maybe it’s the kid. Regardless.

“Alright then, Janie,” I say. “It was nice talking to you.”

I roll my eyes at Candace, as if I just can’t get this woman to stop yapping.  

She smiles another sleepy smile and mouths back, I want waffles. Then she slaps her ass and walks towards the kitchen.

I hop out of bed, grab a pair of jeans, and lean over towards the charger to hang up the phone.

“It’d be nice if you would at least say goodbye, Janie.” I say.

No response. 

“You could at least tell me goodbye, you know,” I whisper. “After all, that was pretty hot, wasn’t it?”

I laugh and feel pretty good about the situation, glad that me and Candace had this fight. I try to pull on my jeans without dropping the phone. Janie still doesn’t say anything and is just breathing off in the background.

“It’s a shame you’re so freaked out,” I say, and hang up.

I look at the phone sitting on the charger and think about calling her back, maybe apologizing for that last comment. But what would I say, really?

I should clear her name off the Caller I.D.

Candace is in the kitchen, pulling pots and pans out of the cupboard and singing a song I can’t stand, replacing all the lyrics with the word “waffles”.

The Caller I.D. says Glen Ducote, and I wonder why I talked to that woman for so long. It’s sad, I guess, that her marriage is so bad. And it’s sad that she has to call people she doesn’t know. I erase the name and switch off the ringer.

What else can I do?

The woman wants waffles.

  

© 2002 M.O. Walsh

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